Newcomers helping Cavs’ Big Three become bigger
CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 106-92 hammer job of the visiting Utah Jazz on Wednesday:
1. The Cavs are beginning to really experience the work of general manager David Griffin and his trade of Dion Waiters a few weeks back. Anyone who sees big center Timofey Mozgov and guard J.R. Smith can attest to that. Neither is an All-Star, but each is the type of talented role player the Cavs were lacking at the start.
2. Mozgov finished with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and pulled down 11 rebounds. He blocked two shots at the rim and altered countless others. That’s called protecting the basket.
3. Not surprisingly, it seems as if LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and others thoroughly enjoy playing with Mozgov. Perhaps for no other reason than the guy just opens up a lot of space for everyone to operate.
4. Now, Smith (15 points) wasn’t nearly as efficient, shooting just 5-of-16. That included just 2-of-11 on 3-pointers. But that’s OK. As Cavs coach David Blatt said before the game, natural scorers like Smith "are going to take a bad shot here and there." And while Mozgov creates opportunities underneath the basket, Smith does the same from the perimeter — from where he is a constant threat.
5. In other words, Smith may not always make it, or take the best possible shot — but opposing defenses must respect him nonetheless. Smith has the ability to go for 25 points or more if things are falling.
6. All of this, of course, makes life considerably easier for the Cavs’ Big Three of James, Irving and Kevin Love. Never was that more evident than against the helpless Jazz, who trailed by as many as 28 points in the second half.
7. LeBron finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes. In the five games since returning from injury, he’s averaging 30.6 points and just basically looking like a new man. Or at least like the old LeBron.
8. He did finish with seven turnovers, and while some are the result of him handling the ball so much, some are the result of lazy and careless passes. But we’re nitpicking here. The Cavs (23-20) have won four straight and improved to 18-4 when scoring 100 or more. That’s the bottom line.
9. As Blatt said of LeBron, "I think he knows when his turnovers are the result of being aggressive and when they’re the result of doing other things." Read: He’s LeBron James. If he thinks he needs to cut down on turnovers, he will.
10. He also probably could’ve compiled a few more assists had Smith and Love been able to hit a few more wide-open shots set up by James. Love went just 1-of-7 on threes. To his credit, he did shoot 6-of-8 on everything else, scoring 19 points to go with 13 boards.
11. Blatt explained it this way: "We’re moving the ball and guys are playing together. We scored 106, but man, we had a lot of good shots (that didn’t go in)." The key part of that is "moving the ball" and getting "a lot of good shots." The rest will take care of itself.
12. Speaking to that ball movement: This marked the second straight game all five Cavs scored at least 15 points. Before last game (Monday vs. Chicago), it hadn’t happened since 1993.
13. Last time all five Cavs starters scored at least 15 points in BACK-TO-BACK games? Try never.
14. I’m disappointed in myself for rambling on this long without mentioning Kyrie Irving (or barely mentioning him, anyway). The guy has just been fantastic, particularly when it comes to effort on defense.
15. Irving may never be a lockdown type, and the Cavs can live with that. What’s making him stand out is how he’s flying all over the court, playing the role of a major pest. And I never thought I’d write this, but Kyrie’s D is becoming contagious.
16. On one defensive sequence in the third quarter, Irving poked the ball loose from behind. It ended up in the hands of Smith under the Jazz basket. Smith was facing the wrong way, so he threw an unlikely (and perhaps ill-advised) outlet pass over his head. Tristan Thompson grabbed it and fed the ball back to Irving, who then fired it off to Love for an alley-oop dunk. Needless to say, the sellout crowd went bananas.
17. Blatt on the sequence: "That’s not a common action, nor is it a designed thing. But the game of basketball is a beautiful sport. When you’re playing with passion and with excitement, it’s great. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for the guys."
18. Irving, by the way, finished with 18 points (8-of-13 shooting), four assists and zero turnovers.
19. Kyrie on the way things have gone lately: "It’s a brand of basketball that you really want to be a part of. It’s really fun getting up and down. It all starts with our defense. Our intensity on that end gets us easy baskets and everyone sharing the ball."
20. Now, as for the matter of minutes, it appears Blatt has a fairly set eight-man rotation. That’s not real deep, but things should change a little once Iman Shumpert (another part of the Waiters trade) debuts in Cleveland. That very well could happen Friday vs. the Charlotte Hornets.
21. The Jazz cut the Cavs’ lead to 12 in the fourth quarter, which is when Blatt re-inserted James. Blatt said he was planning to rest LeBron for the entire fourth, "but we’re not gonna risk the game."
22. Just as I always wrote to not get too down when things are bad, I would advise not to get too fired up over the recent nice stretch. Still, the way the Cavs are playing lately sure beats the alternative. "We still have a ways to go," Blatt said. "But you feel that the team is beginning to gel, and guys are getting comfortable."
23. LeBron put it this way: "It’s clicking. Defensively, we’ve stepped it up. On offense, we share the ball, and even though we missed a lot of open looks tonight, everyone fell into a good rhythm. When you have that, when we’re sharing the ball and defensively we’re helping one another — the game is fun."
24. As for the poor Jazz (14-28), well, they’re really struggling these days. But Jazz coach Quin Snyder had some good things to say the Cavs afterward.
25. Snyder on the Cavs: "Any time a team goes through adversity, you have an opportunity to use it to come together or it can make things harder. I think with them, what you’ve seen is them trying to find their identity. I think people underestimate how hard it is when you have great players who have played certain roles and are now trying to mesh together. It’s a credit to them that they’re doing it as quickly as they are. I thought they passed the ball so well. They’re just finding people everywhere and their passes are accurate. They looked like a really unselfish team."
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